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date: 05 December 2022

Asante Queen Mothers in Ghanafree

Asante Queen Mothers in Ghanafree

  • Beverly J. StoeltjeBeverly J. StoeltjeDepartment of Anthropology, Indiana University


The queen mothers of Asante are linked together with chiefs in a dual-gender system of leadership. The symbol of authority and leadership in Asante is a stool (like a throne in England). Throughout the polities of Asante, each queen mother occupies her own stool, and each chief occupies his own stool, representing the authority of chieftaincy in a town or a paramountcy. This political model shapes Asante like a pyramid: queen mothers and chiefs of towns and villages at the base, paramount queen mothers and chiefs at the next level with authority over those of towns and villages, and the king of Asante, the Asantehene, and the queen mother of Asante, the Asantehemaa, at the top ruling over all of Asante. The king of Asante occupies the Golden Stool, the symbol of the Asante nation, which holds the souls of the Asante people according to popular belief. Although the position of queen mother has survived challenges, the relative salience of specific features of her authority has varied. Colonialism ignored queen mothers, and yet Yaa Asantewaa led a war and became a symbol of Asante identity. When the global women’s movement provided inspiration, queen mothers joined together to reclaim their authority.


  • West Africa
  • Women’s History

Asante Queen Mothers and Asante Identity

Asante queen mothers have commanded soldiers in war (Yaa Asantewaa), engaged in politics (Yaa Akyaa), occupied chiefs’ stools (Ama Serwaa), advised their chiefs, and resolved disputes in courts. These acts have occurred because a queen mother occupies her own stool, the symbol of authority. A chief occupies a separate stool that endows him with authority.

Figure 1. Stools are commonly found in households as well as in the palaces of chiefs and queenmothers. Multiple stool designs constitute a language of symbols that corresponds to levels of status or expresses particular themes, some of which can be interpreted differently. The design shown above represents a queen mother.

Photo by Beverly Stoeltje.

The two positions are complementary; they have never been the same or equal. A chief is the public leader of a polity whereas a queen mother is the chief’s adviser in all matters as she is a repository of wisdom. The following proverb expresses this relationship, comparing the wisdom a queen mother provides a chief to the milk with which a mother nurtures her child: “The Chief sucks the breasts of the Queen Mother.”1 The queen mother’s advice carries such great weight that she can be destooled if her chief does not perform his duties well as she will be blamed for not giving him good advice.

Equally important in the position of queen mother is the responsibility for the welfare of women and children and domestic issues; consequently, women especially, but men as well, bring their conflicts to the queen mother of their community or paramountcy for resolution. In addition, the Asantehemaa holds a formal court with elders and akyeame (linguists) twice every week in her palace in Kumasi in which special cases such as curses are heard.

Asante queen mothers play a powerful role in ritual and specific political decisions as they are the foundation of the matrilineal kinship system, and chieftaincy rests on that system. Conceptually and materially, the role of queen mother fuses the concept of motherhood together with political strategy and identity.2

Figure 2. Asante queen mothers in attendance at a durbar on the grounds at Manhyia, 1990, Kumasi. On the far left is the Nsutahemaa, Nana Yaa Sekyere II.

Photo by Beverly Stoeltje.

A chief and a queen mother must be members of the same family; they are never married to each other. While the queen mother was generally the biological mother of the chief in the 19th century, in the 20th and 21st centuries that relationship became less common but still occurred. Although the English term for ohemaa is “queen mother” in English, the relationship can be sister and brother, uncle and niece, aunt and nephew, or other relations. Ohemma means female ruler in Twi.

Figure 3. The Juabenhene, the Juabenhemaa on his right, and the Juasohemaa on his left in attendance at the launch of the Otumfuo Education Fund at Manhyia established by the Asantehene Osei Tutu II Nov. 13, 1999. Transformed into the Otumfuo Osei Tutu II Charity Foundation.

Photo by Beverly Stoeltje.

To qualify as a chief or queen mother in this matrilineal society, a person must be descended from a royal ancestress in one’s clan. As the royal genealogist, a queen mother has knowledge of who is qualified. When a chief’s stool is vacant, the queen mother nominates a qualified individual for the position. She is allowed three nominations; if none are accepted by the elders (who must provide a reason), they will make a decision. Nevertheless, the person must qualify as a member of the royal family. At the level of the king, members of the Traditional Council and numerous other influential individuals are also involved.

It is widely claimed that a chief, with his elders, chooses a queen mother from among those qualified by descent. Whether a chief or the elders have greater influence depends on the specific situation. Nevertheless, a pattern set by tradition determined that a queen mother’s eldest daughter will likely become the queen mother when the stool is vacant, and that practice continues though it is not a requirement. In the 21st century, influential individuals, the media, the government, or local politicians may exert an influence on the selection process of either of the positions. With regard to this procedure and to many others, paramountcies exhibit differences from one another depending on their individual histories.3

The queen mother’s knowledge and wisdom includes religion, law, history, politics, and the affairs of everyday life, qualifying her for one of her most important responsibilities—advising her chief on all matters. (Two queen mothers of Juaben were destooled for not advising their sons, the chiefs, well.) In the 20th and 21st centuries, this advising relationship has been maintained as the ideal, but the right to succession has been challenged in some locations thereby undermining a queen mother’s authority. Additionally, differences in the educational level of a chief and queen mother have caused the relationship to deteriorate. Relevant, also, the impact of economic changes has meant very little revenue flows to some chiefs and queen mothers. In response, the wealth of a candidate for a chief’s position may influence some members of a community. Few queen mother candidates or queen mothers have wealth available to them.4

Once a chief or queen mother is enstooled, he or she occupies the stool for life. However, should a queen mother or chief be guilty of a violation, the individual can be removed from the position in a process called “destoolment” (also “deposed” and “removed”). Such cases have been rare for queen mothers but not unusual for chiefs. All of these procedures are embedded in considerable ambiguity, creating a vulnerability that attracts conflict. Colonialism and modernity have affected the advisory role so significantly that a paradigm shift has occurred, creating a chasm in some instances. Challenges were cultivated under colonialism and its closely linked phenomenon, modernity, and incorporated into the modern state.5

Known for their public display of identity, the Asante place a high value on funerals (held outdoors in an open space). Hundreds or even thousands of people attend a funeral if the subject is prestigious, and all of those who attend must dress in red or black African dress. Throughout the funeral, African drumming and singing fill the air. A funeral, then, serves as a site for the performance of identity as well as to recognize and respect the deceased.6 Present at the funeral of the queen mother of Juaso in November 2015 were the paramount chief of Juaben, Nana Otuo Siribo II, and the chief of Juaso, Nana Asafoakaa Agyei Tabi I, as well as other Asante chiefs and queen mothers and thousands from the diaspora as well as Ghana. The event was an opportunity to show respect for the deceased, but also to greet chiefs and queen mothers present and seated, and to honor the newly enstooled Juasohemaa, Nana Fobiri Tiwaa Foriwaa.

Figure 4. At the funeral of Nana Abena Frimpoma the newly enstooled Juasohemaa, Nana Fobiri Tiwaa Foriwaa (the daughter of Nana Abena Frimpoma), is seated in the center of the queen mothers, wearing sunglasses.

Photo by Beverly Stoeltje.

The Enduring Social Order of the Asante

The eight Akan groups of Ghana and Ivory Coast rest on the foundational features of matrilineal kinship and the dual-gender leadership system. This indigenous system is believed to have been developed by the early Akan peoples between the 1st and 15th centuries. Whether those who became the Asante migrated to the forest area between the 14th and 17th centuries from the Pra River area, or whether they were autochthonous as oral history argues, or whether the ancestress of the Oyoko clan descended from the sky on a golden chain and the people emerged from the earth to meet her depends on the source. However, history is clear that once the various clans settled in the forest area, they traded gold and kola nuts with traders from the north who then traveled over the Sahelian routes to North Africa.

In the late 17th century, the chiefs in the forest area came together under the military leadership of Osei Tutu I and the direction of the powerful priest Okomfo Anokye to defeat the Denkyira, a neighboring Akan group and their overlord. They created the Asante state and the first king, the Asantehene Osei Tutu I in 1701. It incorporated the institution of chieftaincy and the cultural specificities of the proto-Asante communities: matrilineal kinship, belief, ritual, resolution of conflict, and dual-gender leadership.7

As the R. Rev. Dr. Peter Sarpong has noted, most systems of political authority “derive at least some part of their reason of existence from myths, accepted stories about how the system began.” Such stories usually provide a “mythical charter” for the existing system of authority, and serve to sustain law and sanction among other things. Whether based on fiction or history the stories express attitudes and values of society.8 The Asante are no exception being very rich in oral traditions, most of which exist in numerous versions. According to a frequently published narrative, the ritual origins of the state took place shortly after the military victory over the Denkyira when a great gathering of chiefs (the military leaders) was held in the place that became Kumasi. Okomfo Anokye brought down from the sky a wooden stool covered in gold that alighted upon Osai Tutu’s knees. In the ritual that followed, Okomfo Anokye declared that the Golden Stool symbolized the nation and held the souls of the Asante people. The Golden Stool has continued to embody the spirit of the nation and to be protected at all costs.9 Oral tradition also states that Okomfo Anokye announced seventy-seven laws as the basis for governance and charged chiefs and queen mothers to resolve disputes and impose penalties.

Kumasi continued as the capital of the Asante and has grown to become the second largest city in Ghana in the 21st century. The palaces of the Asantehene and the Asantehemaa are located on a hill in Kumasi known as Manhyia, and the Asante Museum sits beside them. When Ghana gained independence in 1957, the region inhabited by the Asante was labeled the Ashanti Region, the only region of the country named for a cultural group.

Figure 5. A large funeral on the palace grounds at Manhyia (Kumasi), November 2013.

Photo by Beverly Stoeltje.

Throughout the Ashanti Region, the dual-gender form of leadership is replicated, creating many hundreds of chiefs and queen mothers. In this hierarchical society, the Asantehene and the Asantehemaa occupy the top of a pyramidal structure; paramount chiefs and queen mothers at the next level control a territorial division (paramountcy), including the land and its use in their division. Towns and villages located at the base of the pyramid identify their chiefs as odikro and queen mothers as oba panin.

All chiefs and queen mothers must qualify as members of the royal family in their town or paramountcy. As kinship is matrilineal, membership in a family is traced through the mother. The royal family, like all individuals, belongs to one of the eight or nine clans in the Akan societies. Identity is, then, defined by one’s family (a lineage/abusua), a very large clan, and one’s ethnicity or culture. The link to one’s hometown proves to be another element of identity, and the chief and queen mother provide a strong link to the hometown.10

Figure 6. The Asante hierarchical political structure represented as a pyramid with the King of Asante and Asante Queen Mother at the top.

Photo by Beverly Stoeltje.

“Custom” is the term used to refer to the indigenous religion and its practices, widely considered as foundational to Asante. It can be understood as the interdigitation of domains, ones generally perceived as autonomous in modern state governments. These include the institutions (chieftaincy, law, kinship), gender roles, rites of passage and rituals that honor the ancestors; beliefs in a body of powerful deities, some of which reside in rivers; medicine men, priests, and priestesses who have spiritual powers; shrines that must be tended; acknowledgment of a sky god, Nyame, and belief in the spirit of the earth, Asase Yaa. Though Christianity and Islam were established in the late 19th century, indigenous religion has continued to be a uniting force. In its broad reach, custom serves identity as well as indigenous religion, making it possible for the well-educated and the nonliterate to participate in events together although they may not share the same beliefs.11

The language spoken by the Asante is Twi—the language of custom, chieftaincy, the courts, and everyday use. Most Asante also speak English. The word for “chief” in Twi is ohene, and for “queen mother” is ohemaa. (In Twi these simply mean male and female ruler.) To refer to a specific chief or queen mother, the name of the nation, or a paramountcy, or a town combines with the term for chief or queen mother. The titles of the king and queen mother of the Asante are the “Asantehene” and the “Asantehemaa.” For the paramountcy of Juaben, the paramount chief is the “Juabenhene,” and the queen mother is the “Juabenhemaa.”

Knowledge and conventional wisdom have long been preserved and performed in a full range of oral traditions. The Asante are known for their masterful use of language characterized by indirection, subtlety, metaphor, and other devices. This linguistically rich culture favors oral communication, and it often creates more than one account of an event or of an individual’s acts.

Social and Political Transformations

Because of its vast riches in gold, wealth and power accrued to the Asante, attracting foreigners for trade and, eventually, missionaries. From its beginning, the Asante state encouraged and recognized the accumulation of wealth, but the state struggled through the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries with rebellions, wars, and colonialism. With upheaval came transformations, phenomena that rarely announce their coming . Consequently, queen mothers, particularly the Asantehemaas of these temporal frameworks, struggled against the transformations to maintain their position. Consideration of the political environment and the major transformations occurring in the Asante state yields insight into the performance of the queen mothers.

The first major transformation occurred with the creation of the Asante state in 1701, and the second developed when the trade in gold was transformed into the slave trade, and wars increased (18th century to early 19th century). The third arrived with the increasing interference of the British in Asante affairs (19th century) and continued with colonialism into the 20th century. The fourth transition occurred with Ghanaian independence in 1957 and the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana. The fifth transformation developed as a consequence of the influence of the global women’s movement (20th and 21st centuries).

The First Transformation: The Asante State, 1701

With the formation of the Asante state in 1701, authority and power were concentrated in Kumasi and in the king, the Asantehene. He created advisers to serve on a council in the new government and gave them the military titles of the generals (the chiefs) who led the battle that defeated the Denkyira. The Asantehene also created multiple new stools, especially patrilineal stools several of which were designated for the sons of Asantehenes. No women were appointed to the government. The creation of an all-male bureaucracy introduced the first transformation affecting queen mothers—they were excluded from the new government. Moreover, in the 1760s the Kumasi government launched an elaboration of the state, creating even more stools for sons of the Asantehene and exceptionally loyal men, and privileges for men who acquired great wealth including a special title, Oberimpon. The process of elevating male-focused roles within matrilineal systems has been labeled “patrifiliation.”12 These innovations significantly weakened the matrilineages and women of authority. Nevertheless, the Asantehemaa was the cochair of the assembly (governing council) and had her own court at this time. She continued to exercise power as adviser to the king and spoke to the assembly, but the all-male assembly seldom heeded her advice.

A second condition intensifying the struggles of the 18th and 19th centuries was the proliferation of royal women in Kumasi and their ability to reproduce large numbers of children. Ambitious royal women competed with one another as they attempted to place their son on the Golden Stool as king and themselves on the stool of the Asantehemaa, the only position of power available to a woman. These conditions fostered the circulation of false information, fear, and suspicion in Kumasi.13

The Second Transformation: The Slave Trade and Wars From the 17th to the 19th Century

The early slave trade with Europeans began with the Portuguese who arrived in 1471 and subsequently imported slaves into precolonial Ghana and traded for gold. The Dutch expelled the Portuguese and traded with Ghanaians for gold, as did the British and the Danes between the 15th to the middle of the 17th century when the Atlantic slave trade was launched to provide labor for the British, Dutch, and Danish plantations in the West Indies. Africans captured and sold persons to the Europeans who sent them across the Atlantic on their ships to become slave labor for the plantations.14

The slave trade greatly increased warfare among Africans as captives were often sold into slavery; however, individual chiefs, brokers, middlemen, and ordinary people throughout Ghana also captured and sold persons into slavery. As John Mensah Sarbah noted, the European traders fostered dissension and disunion among the Africans, encouraging raiding expeditions to provide prisoners for sale.15 While it created wealth and power in Asante and among the Ghanaian societies in the Gold Coast, the slave trade created insecurity, panic, and fear among all Ghanaians; turmoil and tensions among families and social relationships; corrupt justice in the courts; and devastation for precolonial Ghana.16

In Kumasi the environment during these years was increasingly saturated with intrigue, accusations, and ruthless tactics, as royal women competed to place their sons on the stool.

Table 1. The Asantehemaas


Nyarko Kusi Amo (Nyaako Kusi Amoa)


Nketia Ntim Abamo (Nkata Ntim Abamo)


Akyaama (removed from the record)


Akua Afriyie


Konadu Yaadom (Kwwado) Yiadom)

Akyaama was removed from the record with no explanation. Historians have argued that her children, Osei Kwame and Amma Sewaa, were assigned to Konadu Yaadom as if she gave birth to them.17 The Asantehemaa Konadu Yaadom has been described as the éminence grise of Asante politics during her reign. She had eleven children and died in complications from a menopausal childbirth in her mid-fifties. Half (three) of her sons were kings, and the other half were “reserve kings” (heir apparent).

The Asantehene Osei Kwame (Kwamina), who the official records designated as a son of Konadu Yaadom, succeeded to the stool at a young age—eleven years—in 1777 or 1781, but Konadu Yaadom reportedly preferred her younger biological son to be Asantehene.

The British Governor Roberts revealed the British attitude toward queen mothers in a 1781 report: “We can get no perfect Account of the State of the Asante Kingdom, the present King being a Minor; as far as we can learn, he is governed entirely by his Mother, which has thrown that once populous and powerful Country into great Disorder, so as to weaken it very much; . . .”18

Several narratives describe Konadu Yaadom’s reign, each one different, pointing to the importance of multiple sources. In version one of the conflict that dominated this period, Konadu Yaadom is the Asantehemaa, and she organized a political party against Osei Kwame. Her young son, the heir apparent, died in 1797, and Konadu Yaadom accused the Asantehene Osei Kwame of poisoning him. A coup took place after which Osei Kwame left for Dwaben (Juaben). He was removed from office in 1798 and committed suicide. Konadu Yaadom established her son Opoku Fofie as Asantehene in 1803 or 1804, but he died less than two years afterward. She was then successful in placing another and then another of her sons on the Golden Stool.19

In version two of the conflict, Amma Sewaa and her sons figure prominently. She was the only surviving full sister of the Asantehene Osei Kwame and, as a royal of the Oyoko clan, was qualified to become Asantehemaa; her five sons were qualified to become the king and her daughter, Afua Sapon, the Asantehemaa. After being widowed, she remarried and produced three more boys, one of whom was Kwaku Dua, born about 1797. As the dynastic tension between Konadu Yaadom and Osei Kwame increased, Amma Sewaa’s husband died “under unclear circumstances,” and seven of her sons were killed by Konadu Yaadom’s agents. At that point Osei Kwame removed his court to Dwaben about 1800, taking his newly widowed sister, Amma Sewaa; her daughter, Afua Sapon; and her infant son, Kwaku Dua, and his personal servant with him. As the “ruthlessly ambitious” Konadu Yaadom won the battle in Kumasi, Osei Kwame abdicated and committed suicide or was executed in 1803–1804, and his kin survived as refugees.20

Version three was provided through the Moslems who were present in the government to provide written records for the nonliterate Asante. Joseph Dupuis, a British emissary, who read and understood Arabic, reported that Sai Koamina (Osei Kwame) was attached to Moslems (a “believer at heart”). He was thought to be the most merciful of kings, due perhaps to his prohibiting festivals at which human sacrifice was practiced. Some people feared that he would establish Koranic law for the civil code of the empire. His opposition was led by captains who feared that if he introduced the Moslem religion, they would lose their power so a conspiracy was circulated, and he was deposed. Opoku Fofie was placed on the stool in 1797, but died less than two years later. It was widely believed that Osei Kwame killed him through sorcery.21

In version four T. Edward Bowdich, another British emissary, reported that in 1785 Osei Kwamina became the Asantehene at a very early age, but that in 1798 he had been in Dwaben (Juaben) for twelve months, infatuated “beyond recovery” by his mistress, Gyawa, the daughter of the king of Juaben. His mistress refused to accompany him to Kumasi, “dreading the resentment of his mother, a woman of violent passions, and great ambition . . .,” and he did not return. The Asantehemaa then placed her second son, Osei Apokoo (Fofie), on the stool, and Osei Kwamina was sent into the bush and was killed. Osei Apokoo only lived a few weeks and was succeeded by his brother Osai Tootoo Quamina who was about seventeen years of age. The Asantehemaa was considered a second Messalina (a powerful and promiscuous woman of the Roman Empire), and many young men who refused to intrigue with her from fear or disgust became the victims of her artifice and vengeance.22

In summary, Konadu Yaadom’s three sons were enstooled as Asantehene. When Osei Akoto (Osei Yaw) was enstooled as Asantehene (1823 or 1824) the Muslims exercised a great deal of influence, and he was able to exercise greater freedom with them than Osei Kwame. Talk circulated, however, that one Asantehene had become a Muslim.23 Shortly before her death, Konadu Yaadom and her son, the Asantehene Osei Tutu Kwame, repatriated the surviving Dwaben refugees—Amaa Sewaa; her daughter and young son, Afua Sapon and Kwaku Dua; and his companion to Kumasi.

The Second Transformation: 1809–1888

Officially the slave trade ceased in the early 1800s, but it continued for several decades. When it was no longer profitable the Dutch and the Danes ceded their forts and castles to the British and departed Ghana, leaving the door open for the British to pursue the Asante. Eager to establish direct relations with the Asante, the British sent emissaries to Kumasi; however, they also engaged in wars with the Asante. Their motivation for sending emissaries and for pursuing eight wars was not to trade but to capture and control the gold.24 They were aware that the Asante held one of the richest gold fields in the world. In 1873, a British newspaper stated that it was providential the Asante war had broken out since it gave Britain the opportunity to gain a supply of some thirty or forty million sterling value of gold per year, for many, many years to come.25

Table 2. Asantehemaas and Juabenhemaa/Juabenhenes


Adoma Akosua


Amma Sewaa (Ama Sewaa)


Yaa Dufie


Afua Sarpon (Afua Sapon)


Afua Kobi


Ama Sewaa, Juabenhemaa, became Juabenhene: 1841–1846 (her daughter)

Nana Akosua Afrakoma I, Juabenhene: 1846–1860, Her sister

Nana Akua Sampomaa: Juabenhene: 1860–1865

Adoma Akosua was destooled and executed for conspiring to bring about the death of Asantehene Osei Tutu Kwame (Osei Bonsu) through bayi (witchcraft).26

Amma Sewaa’s reign was brief as she died a few years after coming on the stool. She was the mother of Kwaku Dua Panin and Afua Sarpon, who had been refugees with her in Dwaben where Afua Sarpon “brought him up.” Afua Sarpon was appointed Asantehemaa by Asantehene Osei Akoto and was revered by the people and thought to be notably charitable toward the needy. Osei Yaw Akoto died in 1834, and Afua Sarpon was crucial to the election of her brother, Kwaku Dua Panin, as Asantehene. She exacted as her price that her son Osei Kwadwo be recognized as heir apparent (his status was greater than Kwaku Dua Panin due to his father’s status).

These conditions placed the Asantehemaa, Afua Sarpon, in a tense situation as the two most important family relationships in Asante were and are that between sister and brother and the bond between mother and son—matri-siblingship and motherhood.27 Afua Sarpon’s eldest daughter, Afia Kobi, took advantage of the tensions, spreading rumors and convincing Kwaku Dua Panin that Afua Sarpon was conspiring to kill him with witchcraft in order to put her own son on the stool. A court trial was held, and Afua Sarpon and her son were found guilty and sent into exile. Afia Kobi became Asantehemaa and her son, Kofi Kakari, became the designated heir apparent. The Asantehene then ordered his sister and her son killed, and they were “eliminated” or, in some accounts, she committed suicide. Over time Kwaku Dua Panin regretted his action and developed a pathological antipathy for Afia Kobi and her sons. He became depressed, drank excessively, and had everyone killed who had borne witness against his sister and her son. One individual reported that between mid-April and mid-June 1859 more than a thousand people were killed in Kumasi. It was widely believed that he was haunted by the spirit of Afua Sarpon and her son until he died in 1867.28

In contrast to this tragedy, in Dwaben (Juaben) no male heir was available in the 1840s. The Juabenhemaa, Amma Sewaa, was placed on the chief’s stool and was called the Juabenhene, and was recognized by the Asantehene.29 Of significance, she rebuilt the town of Juaben (which had been destroyed in a rebellion against the Asante). She officiated at chief’s ritual ceremonies, and presided in court for four and a half years until her death. Her stool was placed in the male stool house. This was possible because she had passed the menopause. She was succeeded by her daughter, Afrakuma Panyin, who also ruled as the chief. When she died, she, too, was buried in the chiefs’ mausoleum, and her stool was placed with those of the chiefs. She, too, had passed the menopause. Her daughter Akua Sapomaa succeeded her and reigned for five years.30

Table 3. Asantehemaas


Afua Kobi


Yaa Akyaa

Asantehemaa Afua Kobi placed her son Kofi Kakari on the Golden Stool at the death of Kwaku Dua I in 1867, but heavy criticism of him caused her to have him deposed in 1874. She then placed her next son, Mensa Bonsu, on the stool. Considered the most cruel of Asante kings, his reign of bloody terror (having beheaded many people) led to his removal in March of 1883. Afua Kobi was accused of faulty upbringing of her sons to account for their failures and was forced to abdicate. Alternative narratives say that she was exiled by her own daughter, Yaa Akyaa.31

The daughter of Afua Kobi and the granddaughter of Kwaku Dua I, Yaa Akyaa has been condemned by some Asante as a shrewd and ruthless obaa-barima (he-woman). In other interpretations she has been considered a stateswoman and is credited with reconstituting the central government in Kumasi after rebellions weakened it under her brothers’ reigns, and the civil war between 1884 and 1888 alienated support and depleted the treasury.32 With her political acuity and her wealth, she succeeded in placing two sons on the Asante stool. She bribed influential associates and utilized the strategic marriage of her daughters as a means of expanding her base (she had nine daughters and four sons).

When her brother Mensa Bonsu was removed as king in 1883, Yaa Akyaa launched her claim for her son Kwaku Dua II as Asantehene. A political battle ensued between her team and the team that supported Kofi Kakari, the brother of Yaa Akyaa and the deposed Asantehene.

Many authorities at this time consulted shrines and Muslim diviners who predicted that if Kwaku Dua was elected he would die in forty days. He was enstooled on the Golden Stool on April 24 or 28, 1884, at the age of twenty-two years, and he became Kwaku Dua II, and Yaa Akyaa became Asantehemaa.33 Forty-four days after his enstoolment, Kwaku Dua II died suddenly, confirming the predictions. Indications point to Owusu Koko as the agent of the young Asantehene’s death. Kofi Kakari died as well, and reports assigned responsibility to Kumasi politicians or Yaa Akyaa.

Yaa Akyaa then employed her full repertoire of tactics in support of her son, thirteen-year-old Kwaku Dua III (whose surname was Prempeh). A civil war ensued—a bloody, lengthy war from 1884 to 1888 that proved to be a great cost to Asante.34 The economic life of Kumasi was ruined by rebellions due largely to Owusu’ Koko’s use of terror. To conclude with a victory on March 5, 1888, Yaa Akyaa presided over the Council of Kumasi as Asantehene, assisted by her sister, Akua Afriyie, acting as Asantehemaa, and the council confirmed Agyeman Prempeh as the heir apparent. On June 11, 1894, Prempeh was formally placed on the Golden Stool in a magnificent display of support.35

Because of Prempeh I’s young age, Yaa Akyaa became the virtual ruler of Asante for much of his reign. At the point at which her son was enstooled, she reversed her tactics and counseled reconciliation with her enemies and made numerous compromises in exchange for military support. In dealing with the British, she displayed her disdain, and they finally realized that she had always opposed their intentions and goals. Not surprisingly, when the British imposed their will on Asante in 1896, Yaa Akyaa became a primary target.36

The Third Transformation: The British, Exile, and Yaa Asantewa

Table 4. Asantehemaa and Ejisuhemaa



Yaa Asantewa, queen mother of Ejisu



Konadu Yiadom II

On January 20, 1896, the British Governor Maxwell arrested the Asantehene and the Asantehemaa and an entourage of forty-three persons plus an interpreter, ultimately sending them into exile in the Seychelles Islands in 1900, claiming they would never return. Significantly, the British commercial interests set up the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation in the late 1890s.

The queen mother of Ejisu, Yaa Asantewa, assumed the tradition of opposition to the British in 1900. Her chief, the Ejisuhene (who was also her grandson or nephew), had been included in the entourage who were exiled to the Seychelles in 1896. A few years later, Governor Hodgson came to Asante and held a meeting with Asante chiefs and Yaa Asantewa in which he made a quintessential British blunder. He demanded that he should be given the Golden Stool so that he could sit upon it. After the meeting Yaa Asantewaa spoke with passion to the chiefs: “If you, the chiefs of Asante, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments.”37 She inspired the chiefs to fight, and led the war herself, the Yaa Asantewaa War.38 Though the British suffered a great many losses, the Asante were ultimately defeated. However, Asante nationalism was revitalized, having prevented the British from obtaining the Golden Stool, the symbol of the Asante nation. After the war, Yaa Asantewaa was exiled to the Seychelles. Nevertheless, she became a heroine enshrined in the popular imagination as the icon of Asante identity.

The British annexed Asante on September 26, 1901, imposing colonization. The authority of queen mothers was severely diminished by the British.39 They educated and elevated numbers of Asante and other Ghanaian men but not women. An Asante man explained to Rattray in the early 20th century that the white man never asked about this but only recognizes the men; therefore, he concluded that Europeans considered women of no account.40

After twenty-eight years, Prempeh I and his entourage were returned to Asante from the Seychelles in 1924. While in the Seychelles the Asantehene recorded The History of the Asante Kings and the Whole Country Itself. Yaa Akyaa died in the Seychelles on September 2, 1917, at the age of seventy-five, and Yaa Asanewaa died there in 1921.

The Fourth Transformation: Modernity, Ghanaian Independence, and Late 20th Century

Table 5. Asantehemaas


Amma Serwa Nyarko (Ama Sewaa Nyaako)

Independence was achieved in 1957, and the constitution included Regional Houses of Chiefs, but in 1966 Nkrumah was removed from the presidency, and a new constitution established the National House of Chiefs. Queen mothers were not included in these houses nor did they receive any other attention. The British effort to relegate queen mothers to obscurity and the influence of modernity in early independence was so successful that many Ghanaian citizens regarded queen mothers as residual figures from the past who had no value in the modern nation-state of Ghana. Yet queen mothers remained. They were more likely to reside in their towns than the chiefs who often lived in the cities, and they “moved around” to funerals and visited family in the cities, all the while participating in circuits of communication. Importantly, the Asantehemaa’s court maintained continuity throughout this temporal framework.

In the latter decades of the 20th century, the global women’s movement began to change ideas about women in many countries, including Ghana. Numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) established programs to foster the education and welfare of women, often finding queen mothers to be good partners. Ghana also hosted a representative of UNESCO to evaluate the welfare of women in the country. The Ghanaian government created a women’s organization with the title 31st December Women’s Movement under the direction of Nana Konadu Rawling, the wife of President J. J. Rawlings. National and international organizations of women founded chapters in Ghana, WILDAF (Women in Law and Development in Africa) being especially significant.41

Chieftaincy also gained ground in the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana that devotes a chapter to chieftaincy in which it states that the term “chief” means a person who has been validly nominated, elected or selected and enstooled, enskinned or installed as a chief or queen mother.42 The Ga-Dangme and the Ewe peoples, both patrilineal societies in the south of Ghana, made a progressive decision to add queen mothers in an advisory and ceremonial role to their chieftaincy offices in the latter half of the 20th century.43

Queen mothers were assuming responsibility in many locations. A significant indication of the transformation taking place was apparent in the paramountcy of Offinso where the chief and elders realized the potential represented in an educated queen mother. Acting on this knowledge, in the mid-1980s they enstooled as Offinsohemaa Nana Ama Serwah Nyarko, an elementary school teacher, married and the mother of three children. (She and her husband had a fourth child after she was enstooled, as it is expected that a queen mother will give birth to demonstrate she is not barren.)

The paramount Offinsohemaa has proven to be a visionary queen mother. She has organized the queen mothers (the oba panin) of the towns and villages in her paramountcy into the Offinso Queen Mother’s Association, and she participates in the Ashanti Regional Queen Mother Association. The Offinso queen mother assists the village queen mothers with projects that are sustainable. Significantly, when the AIDS disease created orphans, she took responsibility for fifty orphans, the first person in the Ashanti Region to do so.

Figure 7. The Offinsohemaa, Nana Ama Serwah Nyarko, seated on her stool at Offinso.

In a small town near Kumasi, Nana Abena Afriyie, the queen mother (oba panin) of Boankra, was the primary leader as the chief had been destooled in the early 1990s. Her mother was the previous oba panin, and she, being the eldest daughter, was chosen when the stool became vacant in 1981. Because the chief’s stool was vacant, Nana Afriyie took on additional leadership in the town with considerable success. One of her projects which she undertook with the school principal was raising funds to build a new elementary school, an effort which was ultimately achieved.

The Fifth Transformation: The Global Women’s Movement, Recognition and Expansion

Table 6. Asantehemaa


Afia Kobi Serwaa Apem II


Ama Konadu Yiadom III

By the 21st century, the concept of the empowerment of women had become a matter of public discussion in Ghana since the importance of female leadership as essential for the advancement of society had been recognized.

Figure 8. Poster on the street in Kumasi, November 2015. Michelle Obama, (U.S.), President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia), Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Woode (Ghana), and Hillary Clinton (U.S.).

Photo by Beverly Stoeltje.

In a major step of recognition the National House of Chiefs agreed to admit as many as twenty queen mothers to membership for limited terms. At least one individual queen mother had already received considerable recognition as she embodied empowerment in her ability to fuse tradition and modernity. Nana Boakyewa Yiadom I exemplified the empowerment of women throughout her long career at the United Nations working with refugee women in Africa and serving in associations for the advancement of women internationally. At the same time she occupied the queen mother stool of Adamorobe in Aburi-Akuapem where she was endowed with the title “Amanonehemaa,” meaning ambassador. In the early 2000s she successfully resolved a difficult dispute over land use, and as a result by 2004 she had been enstooled as the chief, Nana Osei Boakyewa Yiadom II of Admorobe.44

The 21st century’s most remarkable queen mother achievement has been described as ten thousand formidable women who are the 21st-century incarnation of the traditional queen mothers of Ghana ready to reclaim their power. Their leaders have created a national organization that brings queen mothers together from throughout the country. Rather than ignoring queen mothers who have remained in the shadows of modernity, this organization, Women Traditional Leaders, empowers all queen mothers in Ghana to assume their leadership and take responsibility for the welfare of women and children as tradition warrants.

Nana Amba Eyiaba I, a queen mother from Cape Coast, described queen mothers as partners to the chiefs and mothers looking after the whole community. The result of a movement led by queen mothers who have become well educated, this organization supports queen mothers in efforts to reclaim their traditional role and to modernize it. Significantly, it has introduced the position of queen mother in the northern societies of Ghana; this new position is called “Pognaa,” (pl., Pognamine) and assists the village women to support themselves and to address issues such as girls’ education.

The credit for much of the success of this program can be traced to the initiatives of the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Training (IRAT) in Legon, Accra, that trains queen mothers and supports them with ceremonies of recognition. Articles featuring photographs of the queen mothers in beautiful African dress appeared online in 2015. Professor Irene Odotei of the University of Ghana is director of the IRAT, and Professor Emeritus George Hagan was the previous director.45

In addition, queen mothers of any rank can join together in a meeting of Christian Queen mothers. The meeting is hosted at the National House of Chiefs, and they provide the queen mothers with some financial assistance. The queen mothers are expected to return to their towns and villages and educate the women there with regard to HIV/AIDS and other current issues. The Catholic Queen Mothers Association also holds regular meetings.

As evidence that Asante queen mothers were taking responsibility for the welfare of their communities in a time of crisis, GhanaWeb reported in April 2020 that the paramount queen mother of Ejisu, Nana Yaa Asantewa, II, called on security officials enforcing the partial lockdown in her paramountcy to beat up residents who defied the president’s directive to stay at home to block the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Moreover, she donated a very large supply of protective equipment to the Ejisu government hospital for the protection of health workers.46

In addition to these general organizational efforts, targeted meetings and workshops have grown up in Ghana in the 21st century to better prepare queen mothers with the knowledge they need for leadership in modern Ghana, taking advantage of the opportunity for local leadership queen mothers represent.47

In contrast to the recognition and expansion of modern queen mothers, critical forces were stirring within Asante chieftaincy in 2019. The paradigm shift that altered the relationship between chiefs and queen mothers resulted in a view of tradition that produced generations of chiefs who gave little notice to their queen mothers. Therefore, the queen mothers’ announcement that they were reclaiming their power represented a sharp reversal of the long-held view of the position of queen mothers.

As the voice of authority on any Asante topic, the King of Asante spoke out with a warning to the queen mothers that they are not to “overtake” their chiefs. Nana Osei Tutu II, the Asantehene, was enstooled in 1999 after Manhyia announced that “a great tree has fallen.” (This phrase is used to announce the death of a great person.) The Asantehene, Opoku Ware II, had passed on. In due time the Asantehemaa, Nana Afua Kobi Serwaa Ampem II, nominated her biological son to succeed to the office of king. It was agreed among the councilors that the modern, educated forty-nine-year-old businessman was to be the choice, and Otumfuo Osei Tutu Obabio, known as Osei Tutu II, was enstooled in 1999 as Asantehene.

From the beginning of his reign, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II was widely perceived as a progressive king. In contrast to his stance of modernization, the Asantehemaa, his mother, had been selected in the 1970s because she epitomized Asante tradition, not modernity, and had never been exposed to modern education.

The Asantehemaa, having reigned for thirty-nine years, on November 14, 2016, “went to her village” (passed away) at the age of 109 or 111. The Asantehene made the choice, approved by councilors, to place his senior sister on the stool. In November 2017, the Asantehene honored the deceased Asantehemaa and also enstooled his eldest sister, Nana Ama Konadu Yiadom III, as the 14th Asantehemaa in a lengthy public ritual attended by thousands of Asante and widely documented for television and the Internet.

In March 2019, the Asantehene addressed the Asanteman Council at his palace and announced that he would not allow any act of disrespect from queen mothers in his jurisdiction. He warned queen mothers in the Ashanti Kingdom against the formation of associations that are intended to undermine the authority of chiefs, and that nothing could be done unless they come to him first. Further, he warned that queen mothers are to sit behind and beside their chiefs to advise the chiefs, not to overtake them. He added that a queen mother’s role is not meant for fashion and taking nice pictures.48

In contrast to the recent past when queen mothers were often ignored, queen mothers of the 21st century are creating queen mother associations and exercising leadership in their communities.


Queen mothers have struggled since the formation of the Asante state to maintain their authority. Though some Asantehemaas seemed to have utilized ruthless methods to ensure their power, they were functioning in a social and political environment characterized by intrigue, wars, and violence as well as external pressures and changing ideologies. Nevertheless, in neighboring Dwaben (Juaben) the queen mother became a popular and respected chief who maintained peace and was followed by her daughter and granddaughter who also occupied the chief’s stool and maintained peace.

Under colonialism and independence, a significant paradigm shift developed, creating a chasm between chiefs and queen mothers and dramatically reducing the power of queen mothers. Nevertheless, queen mothers remained faithfully on their stools through difficult years, in possession of their knowledge. When the global women’s movement reached Ghana, lending support to women leaders, queen mothers revitalized their roles. In their new voice they have created organizations (national, regional, and local), and emphasized their responsibility for the welfare of their community, especially women and children, while affirming their partnership with the chiefs.

The warnings issued by the Asantehene to queen mothers in the Ashanti Kingdom are reminders that as centuries turn over and new possibilities in the relations of power appear, resistance also evolves. They signal that transformation does not declare itself, but emerges within the arenas of power as actors struggle to gain or claim authority. Among the tools always available is the concept of tradition, widely utilized by actors immersed in the ideologies of modernity to elevate or decimate other actors.49

Recognizing its power, queen mothers have declared their goal as the modernization of their tradition. In so doing they have reclaimed the power of the queen mother stool by shifting their space in the shadows to a space in the spotlight. The 21st century represents a fifth transformation for Asante queen mothers and for all queen mothers of Ghana.50

Figure 9. Queen mothers at the funeral of Nana Abena Frimpoma II. November 15, 2015, in Juaso Town Park, Juaso, moving slowly with other supporters to greet the newly enstooled Juasohemaa and her supporting queen mothers.

Photo by Beverly Stoeltje.

Discussion of the Literature

Traders, emissaries, missionaries, and officials produced what is widely considered to be a plethora of documentation on precolonial Ghana without equal in any other site in Africa. Historians and anthropologists followed and began compiling research into volumes. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ghanaians began recording their own history and customs, correcting facile presumptions and revealing colonial blunders. Rev. Carl Christian Reindorf‘s history was published in 1895, and John Mensah Sarbah published his first book on law in 1897. In 1903, the Ghanaian J. E. Casely Hayford proposed, “now, imagine, if you can, the Gold Coast and Ashanti flooded with knowledge and culture of the best order”51

Ghana has been flooded with knowledge, and Asante specifically has garnered a substantial literature that fills the shelves of libraries. Nevertheless, the subject of queen mothers rarely caught the eye of those fascinated enough by the Asante to record their observations.

Exceptions to the rare attention devoted to queen mothers are the anthropologists R. S. Rattray and Meyer Fortes who focused more on the position and less on specific individuals (Rattray mentions individuals in the chapters on specific chiefdoms).52 Relevant to queen mothers is Fortes’s discussion of family relations in “Kinship and Marriage Among the Ashanti.”53 Though Rattray and Fortes have been criticized for using the methodology of structural functionalism, their studies provide detailed discussion of the role of queen mother and are frequently quoted by later scholars.

A unique oral history narrated by the Asantehene Nana Agyeman Prempe while exiled in the Seychelles and published originally in 2003, The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself is divided into two parts, and the second half is the narrated history by the Asantehene.54 Though his queen mother, Yaa Akyaa, accompanied him, and queen mothers are the genealogists of royal families, she is not mentioned as a source, but the basic facts of her life are given. Of particular interest is the narrative of Ankyewa Nyame, the ancestress of the Oyoko clan. She came down from the sky on a gold chain and sat in a large brass pan that contained the souls of the Asante. This work is also valuable for its concordance, lists of names, and sources.

As a general consideration of methodologies, Asante historians have been interested in tracking events and influential persons and their outcomes while anthropologists and folklorists have focused more on persons within social or cultural systems: interaction within the constraints (or not) of systems, and the use of resources and cultural specificities (status, marriage, rituals and festivals, speech forms) to achieve their goals.

Asante historian T. C. McCaskie has aimed at transcending the restrictions of the universalist epistemology that accompanied European imperialism and argues for “taking cultures on their own historical and intellectual terms,” an approach that integrates the methods of anthropology with those of history.55

Other scholars have addressed methodologies as seen in the special issue of Ghana Studies, “Revisiting Modernization.”56 Esi Sutherland-Addy’s article on the funeral as a site for choreographing modern identities is based on the work of a research team of interdisciplinary scholars and utilizes performance theory as well as others.57

A critical point of view reminds us to explore the sources of Asante scholarship. The materials at the core of this large body of fascinating work are generally derived from oral interviews, observations (written and oral), and archival materials (correspondence and official reports of colonial powers). Many of these sources were recorded by Europeans, though some Ghanaians who had become educated also provided valuable observations, letters, reports and books. Though important, Europeans writing historical accounts were often unaware of their own biases, and, moreover, for any narrative one obtains from an individual person or a written source, there may be numerous other versions of that narrative that tell a different story. This calls into question the interpretation of accounts, especially ones that involve queen mothers.

Attention to queen mothers as a subject worthy of a separate publication began with Agnes Akosua Aidoo, a Ghanaian historian who took note of specific queen mothers in her dissertation and later published several articles outlining important features of the role of queen mothers (the significance of menstruation and menopause; the power of a queen mother whose young son was on the stool).58 It is noteworthy that Aidoo, a female historian, writes about queen mothers with considerably more objective language than previous male writers and scholars did.

In a comprehensive examination of women in the traditional governance of Ghanaian societies, Irene Odotei has identified a very broad range of women’s leadership positions, identifying particular individuals in each century.59

Concentrating on Asante queen mothers at each level of the hierarchy, Beverly J. Stoeltje has discussed the role in its multiple responsibilities, including the Asantehemaa’s court and queen mothers’ responsibility for dispute resolution. In her ethnographic research, she notes the wide variation in education of queen mothers, and the difficulties they face due to a lack of economic support.60

Primary Sources

The search for primary sources on Asante queen mothers in history follows two routes through the plethora of documentation on the Asante—archives and interviews, accompanied by selected publications. As queen mothers are the keepers of the genealogies of their clan, contemporary queen mothers who have some years of experience are good sources on the past as well as the present. Experienced chiefs also have knowledge of queen mothers who occupied the stool in their paramountcy or towns as they are always paired together. A chief and a queen mother will possibly have different perspectives on the past, which can be useful. An interview will be more successful if the researcher has familiarity with the stool history of a specific location.

Research with contemporary queen mothers benefits from meetings and observations carried out over time. Before launching research on queen mothers, a researcher would benefit from contacting Professor Irene Odotei at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, who is the current director of the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Training (INSRAT), a nonprofit education institution affiliated with the University of Ghana that trains and supports queen mothers in Ghana.

A potential source of data are the documents created by the Muslims recording information for the Asante and those engaged in trade. Although scholars in the 1980s published articles on the Muslims in 19th-century Asante, 21st-century scholars have demonstrated a renewed interest in the topic. Rich materials on these topics can be found in the National Archives of Ghana; Manhyia Record Office, Kumasi;

Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon and in Kumasi; General State Archives, The Hague and Universities in the Netherlands, and the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen as well as in collections in the Balme Library, University of Ghana . As both the Dutch and the Danes, as well as the British, had extensive trading relations with the Asante, the national archives and libraries at universities in those countries have valuable resources; extensive scholarship from those sources has been published in the 20th and 21st century with listings of archives and libraries.

Especially valuable are two sources documenting the ritual transition between one Asantehene and another. A. A. Y. Kyerematen’s small but thorough description documents the transition between Osei Agyeman Prempeh II (1931–1970) and the newly enstooled Asantehene, Opoku Ware II (1970–1999) and includes the important role of the Asantehemaa and rare photographs. The King Returns documents the transition between Asantehene Opoku Ware II (1970–1999) and the newly enstooled Asantehene Osei Tutu II (1999), in the form of interviews with the Asantehemaa and palace officials.61

Suggested models for research on queen mothers are the work of Agnes Akosua Aidoo (her dissertation at University of California, Los Angeles, 1975: her bibliography not only lists archives but illustrates the material she found relevant in each archive; her published articles demonsrate the difference between her work related to queen mothers and male scholars), and T. C. McCaskie’s research that appears in State and Society and in Asante Identities.62

See also the following resources:

Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, 1969, 1992.


The African Times

The Illustrated London News

The Daily Graphic (Ghana)


The Pioneer

Archives and Libraries

Robert Sutherland Rattray Papers (Royal Anthropological Institute, London).

Wesleyan-Methodist Missionary Society Archives (SOAS, University of London).

The National Archives of Ghana, Accra, and the National Archives of Ghana, Kumasi.

The Manhyia Archives (Ashanti Research Project and Records Office), Kumasi.

The Methodist Missionary Society Archives, London.

The Basel Missionary Society Archives, Basel, Switzerland.

The University of Amsterdam Library, Amsterdam

The National Archives, Copenhagen

The Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon (unpublished stool histories, masters’ theses and doctoral dissertations; long runs of the Research Review, Universitas, and other University of Ghana journals and publications.

Further Reading

  • Aidoo, Agnes Akosua. “Political Crisis and Social Change in the Asante Kingdom, 1867–1901.” PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1975.
  • Aidoo, Agnew Akosua. “Asante Queen Mothers in Government and Politics.” In The Black Woman Cross-Culturally. Edited by Filomina Chioma Steady, 65–77. Rochester, Vermont: Schenkman Books, 1985.
  • Boahen, A. Adu. Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante British War of 1900–1. Accra, Ghana: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2003.
  • Bravmann, Rene A., and Raymond A. Silverman. “Painted Incantations: The Closeness of Allah and Kings in 19th-Century Asante.” In The Golden Stool: Studies of the Asante Center and Periphery. Edited by Enid Schildkrout, 93–108. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 65, part 1. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1987.
  • Brempong, Arhin. Transformations in Traditional Rule in Ghana (1951–1996). Legon, Ghana: Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, 2007.
  • Fortes, Meyer. “Kinship and Marriage Among the Ashanti.” In African Systems of Kinship and Marriage. Edited by Alfred R. Radcliffe-Brown and C. Daryll Forde, 252–284. London: Oxford University Press, 1950.
  • McCaskie, T. C. State and Society in Pre-Colonial Asante. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • McCaskie, T. C. Asante Identities: History and Modernity in an African Village, 1850–1950. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2000.
  • Muller, Louise. Religion and Chieftaincy in Ghana. Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2013.
  • Odotei, Irene K. “Women in Male Corridors of Power.” In Chieftaincy in Ghana. Edited by Irene K. Odotei and Albert K. Awedoba, 81–103. Legon, Accra, Ghana: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2006.
  • Perbi, Akosua Adoma. A History of Indigenous Slavery in Ghana: From the 15th to the 19th Century. Legon, Accra, Ghana: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2007 [2004].
  • Prempeh I [Otumfuo, Nana Agyeman]. “The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself” and Other Writings. Edited by A. Adu Boahen et al. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Reindorf, Rev. Carl Christian. The History of the Gold Coast and Asante (2nd ed.) [Basel:1895]. Accra: Ghana Universities Press, 1966.
  • Sarbah, John Mensah. Fanti Customary Law: A Brief Introduction to the Principles of the Native Laws and Customs of the Fanti and Akan section of the Gold Coast, with a Selection of Cases thereon Decided in Law Courts. London: W. Clowes and Sons, 1897.
  • Stoeltje, Beverly J. “Creating Chiefs and Queen Mothers in Ghana: Obstacles and Opportunities,” In The Routledge History of Monarchy, 566–580. Edited by Elena Woodacre, Lucinda H. S. Dean, Chris Jones, Russell E. Martin, and Zita Eva Rohr, New York: Routledge, 2019.
  • Wilks, Ivor. Asante in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
  • Yankah, Kwesi. Speaking for the Chief. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.


  • 1. The Offinsohene Nana Wiafe Akenteno II, paramount chief of Offinso, interview with the author, July 1990.

  • 2. George P. Hagan, “The Ascent to the Golden Stool: Women Make the King,” in The King Returns, ed. Irene K. Odotei and George P. Hagan (Legon, Ghana: Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, 2003), 33–59.

  • 3. In the paramountcy of Juaben, the tradition is that the queen mother is the biological mother of the chief; when Otuo Siribo II was placed on the stool in 1971 only a few years after he finished university, his queen mother was Nana Akosua Akyaamaa 11, his biological mother. The majority of paramountcies do not follow this tradition, however.

  • 4. George P. Hagan, “Epilogue: The Way Forward,” in Chieftaincy in Ghana, ed. Irene K. Odotei and Albert K. Awedoba (Legon, Accra, Ghana: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2006), 663–673; and Beverly J. Stoeltje. “Asante Queenmothers: Precolonial Authority in a Postcolonial Society,” Research Review: New Series 19, no. 2 (2003): 1–19.

  • 5. Robert S. Rattray, the British anthropologist, stated, “To-day the Queen Mothers are unrecognized by us and their position and influence are rapidly passing away . . . I have no hesitation in saying that they have been a power working against us in the past. ‘Do not listen to the white man, it is bad for you’ . . . How could their influence have been used otherwise but against us when these shrewd old women saw the whole weight of our power apparently used against them, breaking up their former pride of place in society and the state?” Ashanti (Oxford: R. S Rattray, 1923), 8.

  • 6. Esi Sutherland-Addy, “The Funeral as a Site for Choreographing Modern Identities in Contemporary Ghana,” Ghana Studies 12/13 (2009/2010): 217–248; and Marleen De Witte, “Money and Death: Funeral Business in Asante, Ghana,” Africa 73, no. 04 (November 2003): 531–559.

  • 7. T. C. McCaskie, State and Society in Pre-Colonial Asante (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 129; A. Kyerematen, “The Royal Stools of Ashanti,” Africa xxxix, no. 1 (1969): 4–5.; and Robert S. Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969 [1929]), 285–391. Kwasi Konadu, “Quest of the River, Creation of the Path” in The Ghana Reader, ed. Kwasi Konadu and Clifford C. Campbell (London: Duke University Press, 2016): 30–38.

  • 8. Peter Sarpong, Ghana in Retrospect: Some Aspects of Ghanaian Culture (Tema, Ghana: Ghana Publishing Corporation, 1974), 131–132.

  • 9. Carl Christian Reindorf, The History of the Gold Coast and Asante (Accra, Ghana: Ghana Universities Press, 1966 [1895]), 48–59; and Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution, 270–284.

  • 10. Yaw Adu-Gyamfi, “The Role of the Chief in Asante Society,” in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice, ed. Michael D. Palmer and Stanley M. Burgess (Hoboken:Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 256–267; and Arhin Brempong, Transformation in Traditional Rule in Ghana (Legon, Ghana: Institute of African Studies, 2007).

  • 11. Akosua Agnes Aidoo, “Political Crisis and Social Change in the Asante Kingdom, 1867–1901” (PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1975); Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution, 2; Robert S. Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti (London: Oxford University Press, 1954 [1927]); and Louise Muller, Religion and Chieftaincy in Ghana (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2013).

  • 12. Gwendolyn Mikell, Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 30–31.

  • 13. Agnes Akosua Aidoo, “Asante Queen Mothers in Government and Politics,” in The Black Woman Cross-Culturally, ed. Filomina Chioma Steady (Rochester, Vermont: Schenkman Books, 1985), 65–77.

  • 14. Akosua Adoma Perbi, A History of Indigenous Slavery in Ghana (Legon, Accra, Ghana: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2007 [2004]), 23–27.

  • 15. John Mensah Sarbah, Fanti National Constitution (London: Frank Cass, 1968 [1906]), 76.

  • 16. Akosua Perbi, “Merchants, Middlemen and Monarchs: Dutch and Ghanaians in the Atlantic Slave Trade,” in Merchants, Missionaries and Migrants: 300 Years of Dutch-Ghanaian Relations, ed. I. van Kessel (Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2002), 33–39; and Jemima Pierre, “Slavery, Anthropological Knowledge, and the Racialization of Africans,” in Atlantic Slavery and the Making of the Modern World, Special Issue of Current Anthropology, ed. Ibrahima Thiaw and Deborah L. Mack (October 2020), Vol. 61, Supplement 22, S220–S231.

  • 17. McCaskie, State and Society, 180–182; and Ivor Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century (London: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 338. The historians’ argument, based on mathematical calculations of ages, is that Asantehene Osei Kwame and his sister Amma Sewaa were the children of Asantehemaa Akyamaa.

  • 18. Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century, 251; and McCaskie, State and Society, 185–197.

  • 19. Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century, 252–253.

  • 20. T. C. McCaskie, Asante Identities: History and Modernity in an African Village, 1850–1950 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd, 2000), 27–30.

  • 21. Joseph Dupuis, Journal of a Residence in Ashantee (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd, 1966 [1824]), 245. Osei Kwame’s father had served in eastern Gonja and was known to respect Muslims. He created a special group of Muslims attached to Kumasi physicians for the protection of his son.

  • 22. T. Edward Bowdich, Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd, 1966 [1819]), 237–241.

  • 23. Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century, 254.

  • 24. K. A. Busia, The Position of the Chief in the Modern Political System of Ashanti (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), 90.

  • 25. African Times, October 30, 1873.

  • 26. McCaskie, State and Society, 185; Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century, 355; and Dupuis, Journal of a Residence in Ashantee, 115.

  • 27. Meyer Fortes, “Kinship and Marriage Among the Ashanti,” in African Systems of Kinship and Marriage, ed. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown and Daryll Forde (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), 252–284.

  • 28. McCaskie, State and Society, 180–197.

  • 29. R. Addo-Fening, Nana Otuo Siriboe II, Omanhene of Juaben: An Exemplar of the Modern Traditional Ruler (Accra, Ghana: Lowe Lintas, 2011), 14–15.

  • 30. Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution.

  • 31. T. C. McCaskie, “Agyeman Prempeh before the Exile,” in The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself, ed. A. Adu Boahen et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, pb.2008.), 3–20.

  • 32. Aidoo, “Political Crisis,” 504–545.

  • 33. Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century, 559–560.

  • 34. Aidoo, “Political Crisis,” 504–553; and Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century, 559–588.

  • 35. Aidoo, “Political Crisis,” 615–616.

  • 36. Agnes Akosua Aidoo, “Asante Queen Mothers in Government and Politics in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 9, no. 1 (1977): 1–13.

  • 37. Aidoo, “Asante Queen Mothers in Government,” 65–77.

  • 38. Adu A. Boahen, Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante British War of 1900–1 (Legon, Accra, Ghana: Sub-Saharan Publishers; Oxford: James Currey, 2003).

  • 39. Busia, Position of the Chief, 106. The British chief commissioner deposed the queen mother of Juaben in 1907, Amma Sewaa, because she and her elders opposed their appointment of the chief. She was then detained in Kumasi.

  • 40. Rattray, Ashanti, 8.

  • 41. Dorothy L. Hodgson, “Women’s Rights as Human Rights: Women in Law and Development in Africa,” Africa Today 49, no. 2 (Summer 2002): 3–28.

  • 42. Constitution of the Republic of Ghana (Tema, Ghana: Tema Press of Ghana Publishing Corporation, 1992), 164–168.

  • 43. Odotei, Irene K., “Women in Male Corridors of Power,” Chieftaincy in Ghana, 84–85. Societies in northern Ghana have long defined a leadership position for women. Dagbon, the Nanumba, and Mamprugu all have chieftaincy positions designated for women, and queen mothers have been incorporated in the 21st century.

  • 44. She named the peace center “Apeadu” in honor of her husband, a United Nations representative who was killed in a plane crash while on a UN mission.

  • 45. Veronique Mistiaen, “Meet the Queen Mothers: 10,000 Amazing Women Taking Back Power in Africa,” Telegraph, December 3, 2015; “The Formidable Queen Mothers of Ghana,” Social Films, 2015.

  • 46. Lockdown: Beat People to Stay Home—Ejisu Queen Mother to Soldiers,” GhanaWeb, April 18, 2020.

  • 47. Workshops and training sessions for queen mothers have been provided by the government of Ghana, UNICEF, Unitarian-Universalist Association and NGO’s on numerous topics including educational change, child marriages, land tenure, Traditional Councils, midwives, legal literacy and more. These have been documented in various news media.

  • 48. You Are to Advise Us, Not to Overtake Us—Otumfuo Warns QueenMothers,” GhanaWeb, March 19, 2019.

  • 49. Richard Bauman and Charles Briggs, Voices of Modernity (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

  • 50. Irene K. Odotei, “Women in Male Corridors of Power,” in Chieftaincy in Ghana, ed. Irene K. Odotei and Albert K. Awedoba (Legon, Accra, Ghana: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2006), 81–103.

  • 51. J. E. Casely Hayford, Gold Coast Native Institutions (London: Frank Cass and Co. Ltd, 1970 [1903]), 254.

  • 52. Rattray, Ashanti; and Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution.

  • 53. Fortes, “Kinship and Marriage Among the Ashanti.”

  • 54. Prempeh I [Otumfuo, Nana Agyeman],“The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself” and Other Writings, ed. A. Adu Boahen et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

  • 55. McCaskie, State and Society, 19–23.

  • 56. “Revisiting Modernization,” special issue, Ghana Studies, Guest Editors Peter J. Bloom, Takyiwaa Manuh, & Stephan F. Miescher 12/13 (2009/2010).

  • 57. Sutherland-Addy, “Funeral as a Site,” 17–48.

  • 58. Aidoo, “Asante Queen Mothers in Government and Politics.”

  • 59. Odotei, “Women in Male Corridors of Power.”

  • 60. Beverly J. Stoeltje, “Asante Queen Mothers: Precolonial Authority in a Postcolonial Society,” Research Review NS 19, no. 2 (2003): 1–19.

  • 61. A.A.Y. Kyerematen, Kingship and Ceremony in Ashanti: Dedicated to the Memory of Otumfuo Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II, Asantehene. (Copyright of text and photographs is reserved to the author. Printed by UST Press, Kumasi. nd). Irene K. Odotei and George P. Hagan, ed. The King Returns: Enstoolment of Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II and the AyikEsEeE (Great Funeral) of Otumfuo Opoku Ware II (Legon, Ghana: Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, 2002.)

  • 62. Aidoo, “Political Crisis and Social Change”; McCaskie, State and Society; and McCaskie, Asante Identities.